Chickens need access to fresh water daily, but in the winter, you might find that it’s hard to keep chicken water from freezing.
The first winter I raised chickens, I learned a lot of things like how to keep chicken water from freezing and all about frostbite and chickens.
I also learned that chickens don’t like snow.
Raising chickens is a learning experience!
If you live somewhere that experiences cold, freezing temperatures, you’ll quickly realize how fast water freezes for your flock. Chickens need access to fresh water every day, even in the winter, so it’s essential to figure out how to keep the water unfrozen.
The method that works for you will depend on a few factors like whether or not you run electricity in your chicken coop and how much time you want to invest into watering your animals. So, let’s take a look at a few of the options.
Always Keep Chicken Water Outside the Coop!
So, before we go into all the important tricks and tips to try, you need to keep the water outside.
Yes, this may surprise you because the water will freeze faster outside than it will inside – that’s true. However, keeping the water outside makes it much easier to keep your chicken coop clean throughout the winter, and it’s healthier for your flock.
Your flock isn’t leaving the roosting bar at night to get a drink of water. Ducks are more nocturnal, but backyard ducks don’t need 24/7 access to water. As long as they have it for the majority of the day, they’re fine.
Leaving chicken waterers in the coop also increases the risk of bacteria growing – warmth plus moisture is a breeding ground for nasty things. It also will cause the bedding to be wet and risk freezing.
This doesn’t apply to baby ducklings or chicks. They need access to water and food 24/7 in their brooder box, but that’s different. They don’t have a set sleeping schedule yet.
14 Ways to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing
Now, here are some of my favorite ways to keep chicken water from freezing and some that may or may not work.
1. Use a Large Black Rubber Tub
Perhaps the easiest method is using large black, rubber tubs to hold your chicken water. Those plastic waterers freeze fast, but I’ve found if I use a deep, black tub in the sun, it slows down the freezing process.
Black attracts the sunlight, and the rubber holds onto the warmth longer.
Skip the galvanized metal waterers; they’ll freeze even faster than plastic. As soon as the metal gets cold, it starts to freeze the water inside.
I have several of these black rubber tubs in my chicken run, and I’ve found that they work the best.
2. Put Ping Pong Balls into the Tub
Now, if you get super cold days, still use those black rubber tubs but add a few ping pong balls into the tub. Breezes move the balls around, preventing a solid layer of ice from forming on top of the water.
However you have to make sure the tub isn’t in a shelter location for this to work. Wind has to come in contact with the surface to move the balls around.
Honestly, these are two of my favorite ways to keep chicken water from freezing, and they seem to work a majority of the time.
3. Start with Warm Water
I found if you start with warm water in the chicken waterer, it takes longer to freeze. Use this trick whenever you add more water to the bowls or waterers, and you’ll find that it helps slightly.
The only time you should use boiling water is to unfreeze frozen chicken water; it will cool down rapidly. Don’t start with boiling water because it might melt the plastic waterer or burn your chicken’s tongue. Lukewarm water works the best.
4. Switch Waterers Regularly
Without electricity, one of the only guaranteed methods is to switch out waterers regularly – you sacrifice your time to ensure your flock has unfrozen water.
You’ll need two plastic waterers – one outside and one inside unthawing. Keep the extra one inside and then swap it out with the frozen one every few hours. The larger the waterer, the longer it takes to freeze.
The downside of this method is that it takes extra work on your end, but it is essentially free for you aside from the costs of the two chicken waterers.
5. Thaw with Boiling Water
If you don’t want to swap the waterers out regularly, another option is to bring out a pot of boiling water every few hours. Pour it over the frozen water, and the thin layer of ice will quickly melt away.
Ideally, this method works best in climates where you only have a few freezing days each year. Carrying boiling water out to your chicken coop several times per day is just as frustrating as swapping out chicken waterers.
6. Put A Window Above the Chicken Waterer
You don’t HAVE to use windows, but the main idea is to attract sunlight to the area where your chickens’ water is kept. You might have plastic window panes or free junk windows you pick up on the marketplace.
Glass attracts sunlight, so your chickens end up with a warmer place to enjoy their water and the freezing process slows.
7. Use Heated Waterer Bases
If you have electricity in your coop and run area, then you have more options to stop water from freezing. The most common choice is using heated waterer bases that are available at most farm and fleet stores.
The truth is that these are slightly expensive compared to other options on this list, but it’s convenient. You put the heated waterer base underneath of your current waterer, and that’s all you have to do!
8. Try an Electric Heated Water Bowl
I prefer an electric heated water bowl – typically advertised as a dog water bowl. This is the cheapest yet most efficient and safest way to keep chicken water from freezing with electricity.
Heated water bowls are inexpensive and durable; they last for years, and they’re easy to clean and refill. Since we have electricity, this is my preferred method, but you also should calculate the bowl cost – you need several for a large flock – and cost of electricity when deciding if this option works for you.
If you don’t have electricity, you can still use an electric heated water bowl. Grab a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord and run it from your house to your chicken run; you might need several depending on the distance.
Another benefit to using heated pet bowls is that, if you grab a big enough one, they’re deep enough for ducks to dip their whole heads. However, ducks will try to splash in it, so keep it outside.
9. Put a Light Bulb in a Cinder Block
One of the most innovative ideas to keep chicken water from freezing is to put a light bulb in a cinder block. Most people – especially homesteaders – have some cinder blocks around, but if you don’t, they’re cheap at the store.
Clamp a light bulb inside of a cinder block and cover it with a stepping stone. The stepping stone sets on top, giving the waterer a place to set.
Most instructions show this setup inside of a chicken coop, but remember, this is still a fire hazard with bedding and chicken feathers everywhere. You can find all the details on Backyard Chickens.
10. Keep Ducks with Your Chickens
If you don’t have ducks, get some – like right now! Ducks play in water all the time, even if the winter, so keeping small baby pools or tubs outside for them to splash in throughout the day. That makes it nearly impossible for water to freeze except on days when the temps are in the single digits.
Sure, the water might get dirty and filled with bits of everything, but honestly, the chickens don’t care.
11. Use a Heated Water Bucket for Ducks and Geese
Finding good options to keep duck and geese water from freezing is as tricky, if not trickier, than chickens because they need to dunk their heads to clear their sinuses.
One of my favorite options is small heated water buckets. These are deep enough for them to submerge their heads but not big enough for them to get inside and dirty up the water.
12. Try an Aquarium Heater
I thought of this because my grandparents had a pond years ago, and they used a small aquarium heater to ensure the pond temperature was at the right temp during the winter.
You can buy small aquarium heaters that stay in the water and keeps it at a fairly warm temperature.
This method works best if you use bucket nipple waterers or some sort of closed waterer. You don’t want your chickens pecking the heater. Not only does they risk breaking or damaging it, but they could potentially face electrical shock.
13. Salt Water Float
Some chicken owners swear by this option – a salt water float. You need 1/4 cup salt and a 20oz plastic water bottle. Put the salt into the bottle, and then fill it to the top. Put this bottle inside of your waterer.
In theory, salt water has a lower freezing point, so this floating bottle helps slow the freezing process of the water around it. Moving water is less likely to freeze because ice doesn’t have time to form at the top.
Truth be told, I’ve yet to try this but I’ve heard mixed results from friends. Some say it works great, especially in a pinch, while others say it doesn’t work at all. It might be something we try this winter just to say we tried it and to decide what we really think about it!
14. Use a Small Greenhouse
Whether you want to call it a little greenhouse or a sunroom, setting up an area with old paned windows with the rubber tub underneath is a great trick. If you have a small flock, this idea is practical.
However, I would keep quite a few of these for my larger flock and that’s not the most practical idea.
Everyone has their preferred method to keep chicken water from freezing. All you have to do is figure out what method works the best for you and stick to it!